June 24 2021
I kicked off my rugby career in 1976 with the Abbotsford Club as an eighteen year-old playing flanker. We called it break-away back then. The nineteen seventies game was, in hind-sight, rather ponderous, but laws around rucking were in their infancy, and if you couldn’t boast a good set of ruck marks in the shower you hadn’t really been in the game. Around that time I was selected for the Fraser Valley Under 19's but the team got off to a sputtering start and stalled a few weeks in. I had a season with the Meralomas and played First Division. In those days, the late seventies, no one had heard of Premier.
I was warmly adopted by the Williams Lake Rustlers when my wife and I moved north to the Cariboo in 1981. Northern BC’s Third Division in the 1980’s fostered a brand of rugby with a unique set of customs, a charm all its own. Some weeks we’d convoy to Quesnel or Prince George with only twelve or thirteen players. There are stories of bolstering the roster by picking up players in the McLeese Lake Bar, converting hitch hikers, and I remember a guy in dress shoes that we tried to hide in the second row.
We were a motley assortment of men, brought together by the joy of the game. On one road trip I remember the driver remarking on the diversity of his passengers. A logger, a doctor, a biker, and a teacher.
Sometimes there were gaps on the pitch that needed to be filled. I liked to play seven but in my career with the Rustlers I often played six or eight, twelve or thirteen, and had a few games at nine. If there was a call for the tight five I’d undoubtedly make myself scarce. I once played ten but the depth and direction of my kick, despite perfect conditions, had players and spectators laying bets.
I never fully understood the game until I started coaching high school in 1983. Williams Lake is a small forestry and ranching community that has produced a remarkable number of BC and Canada level players. The town’s rugby success is due to the passion of a small group of coaches and maybe because of the nature of Cariboo players. There is an inherent toughness a kid brings to the pitch if he or she is used to throwing bails, chopping wood, and jump-starting the tractor at minus twenty.
What were my claims to fame in thirty years of coaching? I introduced Leslie Cripps (now Rugby Canada Hall of Fame) to the game. Our girls won a Japan Cup and a provincial title in 2003. At the end of my career I had the pleasure of coaching the very witty and talented Jake Ilnicki, now with Canada and Seattle Seawolves. We took teams of high schoolers to Nova Scotia, to England, and Wales.
Rugby Rivals is my first novel. It’s been recognized by The Junior Library Guild, in New York, as a Gold Standard Read. The JLG purchased 1500 copies to distribute across the US. Ironically my biggest buyer is from our greatest rival.
Both Rugby Rivals and Rugby Rookies are published by James Lorimer and Company in Toronto as part of the Hi/Lo Sports Series. They are high interest, low level vocabulary books, aimed at kids age nine to fourteen who read at a grade two, three, four level.
My aim is two-fold, to entice new readers and grow the game. Book number three is in the draft stage.